Saturday, February 7, 2009

The End of Political Incorrectness

A decade ago, I developed a personal mission statement: the one-liner from which most of what I do would flow.

That mission statement said I'd champion unpopular causes. I reasoned that if a cause is popular, my efforts would be but one drop in an ocean of advocacy. I figured I'd have greater impact by advocating for changes that I believe are crucial yet contrary to popular opinion. So, over the last decade, I've worked hard on these issues:
  • Small government. I believe that nations are best when government is small and with a balanced budget and no bailouts. Money is most wisely spent when the invisible hand of 300,000,000 Americans, not government, decide where money is best saved and spent.
I believe government should have no role in personal decisions such as abortion, when to die (euthanasia), or on who should be allowed to marry--I support gay marriage.
  • Higher education is America's most overrated and underexamined product. The president-appointed Spellings Commission reported that the amount of freshman-to-senior growth in writing, reading, critical thinking, etc., is astonishingly low.
  • We send too many kids to college. The U.S. Department of Education reports that among the hundreds of thousands of college freshmen who graduated in the bottom 40% of their high school class, 2/3 do not graduate even if given 8 1/2 years. Most mediocre high school students would be wiser to consider apprenticeship programs, short-term career training programs at community college, or learning entrepreneurship at the elbow of good and ethical small business owners.
  • Today, white males are the greatest victims of unfair treatment. Some people believe that still, 50 years after the civil rights movement/reverse discrimination and 145 years after slavery ended, we still must make major efforts to "level the playing field." I deeply believe that argument is fully trumped by the gross unfairness to white men in education, employment, divorce law, health care research, and treatment by the media. Even more important, whenever a less competent/hard-working person is hired, we all suffer: lower quality health care, products, services, etc. In addition, reverse discrimination reinforces racism--for example, when we see a minority in a position who is less competent or hard-working than her or his peers, racial stereotyping is reinforced.
  • High-ability elementary school kids are the most underserved kids today. The gap between high-ability kids' potential and their performance is far greater than for low achievers. Yet today's public schools are driven by No Child Left Behind, which provides schools with enormous carrots and sticks for working with weak students and none for bright kids. The result is that bright kids, especially active boys, if they can't sit still for years of six hours a day/five days a week of dumbed-down instruction, are ever more yelled at and/or put on Ritalin.
  • We must reinvent the high school and college curriculum. Currently, professors (who are out-of-touch lovers of arcana) dictate the curriculum, insisting that quadratic equations, the halide series of chemical elements, the use of the doppleganger, and the causes of the Pelopponesian wars are more important for students to learn than interpersonal communication, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, information literacy, etc. That is not just elitist; it's truly crazy.
  • Society's mind-molders should strive to provide a marketplace of ideas, not brainwash. Ever more, our schools, colleges, and media are abandoning their near-sacred responsibility to present the full-range responsibly held views from both left and right of center so the public can make fully informed decisions. Now, positions that dare veer right of center are usually censored and/or censured, often dubbing them racist or sexist, the worst, most discussion-stifling epithets that can be uttered.
Alas, my decade of advocacy on these causes has yielded no perceivable improvement. I balm myself by thinking that I'm a man ahead of my time. Of course, it's also possible that I'm a man whose time has passed. In either case, I plan to not write any more about the aforementioned causes. (as well as about Obama, as I promised in a recent post.)

I will try to restrain myself and write just in the area in which I've previously had the biggest impact: advice on how to improve your worklife. Hope you'll find it helpful.


Dave said...

A few concerns...

What is to stop a heterosexual woman from marrying another woman so she can latch on to that woman's benefit plan? Once she finds Mr. Right, she'll divorce and marry him. Polyamory will soon follow. If you can marry an individual of the same sex, then the case for multiple spouses will come next. Animal marriage will follow. These types of arrangements will DEVALUE the institution of marriage.

Should we dismiss empirical evidence of homosexuals and the link to pedophilia?

What about the gay male health crisis? The risk of anal cancer increases by 400%. Gay men make up 75% of HIV/AIDS in North America. Life expectancy is 24 years less than the average lifespan of heterosexual men.

Marriage will not stop gay men from cruising. They may cruise less, but they will continue to cruise. It is an unstable and dangerous environment for children. I don't think gay couples should be allowed to adopt children.

Richard Nixon was right: Homosexuality is the enemy of strong societies.

How's that for political incorrectness?

Marty Nemko said...

I completely disagree Dave:

1. Slippery-slope arguments are very weak. And especially weak as you describe it--Animal marriage. Come on, Dave. You're better than that. There should be an extremely high burden of proof of pervasive societal and persona negatives before restricting the freedom of people to marry.

2. There are abuses in all systems--including heterosexual marriage--e.g., illegal immigrants creating sham marriages to gain legal status. But the price of restrictions on marriage--especially restrictions on a group of people whose sexual orientation is largely a genetic difference is, in my view, utterly wrong.

As in all groups, there are good, bad, and indifferent. Personally, I happen to know many fine gay people, and those who have married and are grateful for having been allowed to do so.

And remember, I'm not some hard lefty. I just am a meritocrat. And on the merits, I fully believe that gays and lesbians should not be deprived of their equal right to marry (or anything else.)

I want to reiterate what I said in my post: I strongly support gay marriage and of keeping government out of nearly all personal choices lncluding abortion, euthanasia, etc. I would, however, support a ban on cigarettes.

Dave said...

Okay. Bringing up human-animal marriage was ridiculous. My mind is a little out of wack right now. I apologize.

I lack the intellectual capacity to spar with you, but I worry about all social engineering projects. I do not think we should ignore centuries of wisdom and experience that have been passed down to us. Remember: all of the major religions condemn the act.

In the early years of the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks decriminalized homosexuality and the institution of marriage was devalued. The Bolsheviks saw marriage as a sacrament of the Church and they didn't think it was anyone's business what went on in bedrooms. However, the consequences were unbearable. Divorce rates soared to 70%. The Soviet Union couldn't afford to assist so many broken families. Men left their wives and ran off with other men (remember - no gay gene exists). It was anarchy. Lenin realized his mistake shortly before his death in 1924, but no action was taken until the marriage act of 1933. Homosexuality was also outlawed that year.

Also, as a men's health and rights advocate, you probably realize the consequences of the lifestyle. I know statistics is voodoo mathematics, but some of the realities are hard to swallow. A gay friend of mine used to hang out at the gay bars and he was always propositioned for sex. There was no 'getting to know you' stage. He told me!

I am pro-choice, by the way. I know what happened years ago. I also saw 'Love with the Proper Stranger'... That was another disaster we had to learn from.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marty,

I'm sad I'll hear no more political incorrectness from you. I agreed with some of these blogs and disagreed with others, yet
always loved the passion and skeptical thought process fueling them.

On banning cigarettes, there's much evidence the Drug War is a failure and has cost many human lives nationally and internationally.

Would you ban foods that cause cancer and heart disease?

Dr. Michael R. Edelstein

Marty Nemko said...

Beware of confusing correlation with causation. Just because divorce increased in the period following decriminalization of homosexuality doesn't mean one caused the other. There were many other covariates: economic changes in society, for example. And while I don't know the history, it is inconceivable to me that that decriminalization caused anarchy.

Yes, gays (and straights) make unhealthy and healthy lifestyle choices. That doesn't mean we curtail their rights just because they're gay. No.

Robyn said...

Hi Marty,

I'd hate to see you abandon those topics. Even when I disagree with you, I find you thought-provoking. Especially on the higher-education topic.

Grace said...

I agree with Robyn. Please reconsider abandoning these topics entirely - you may not always get national attention or cause widespread change, but your thoughtful commentaries on these issues are still as helpful - and practical - to the average person as your career advice is. You are an expert in the discussions about higher education and gender issues - discussions that are very relevent to employment. Your insights are valued and appreciated; they challenge the way I walk through the world.

Anonymous said...

While your advice on worklife is incredibly helpful, should you really stop writing on unpopular causes you believe in? Only you can answer that, of course.

I wonder if you've been an object of abuse and pressure for it.

You made an excellent point when you mentioned recently that one should extend effort where it is mostly likely to get results.

But, even if it's not very measurable or only broadens the discussion it's a contribution. There's at least some folks who read your blog, column, podcast, or heard your radio program and said "I'm NOT crazy; it isn't right."

I admire the courage you have to have done so.

Marty Nemko said...

Indeed, for the entire decade, I have received incredible pressure--indeed was fired as columnist in the San Francisco Chronicle because of it. On my NPR show, there is near constant calls from those liberal San Francisco listeners to have me taken off the air. I've been googlebombed, calling me a racist. And most recently, in response to my op-ed in on Israel, a person (who I suspect is the same person who has been personally and virulently insulting to me in comments he wanted to post on my blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education and here, )wrote a horribly unfair comment on U.S., where I'm Contributing Editor, calling me a racist. Next I know, my op-ed was moved from the lead editorial to buried deep in US News' archive.

In the two days since I promised not to write about politically incorrect issues, I continue to be champing at the bit to do so, and the comments in support of my doing so make me wonder how long I can keep my promise to not write about my unpopular positions, even if I must endure being called a racist. Honestly, I am unable to sleep when I get such accusations. So, I dunno.

F.S. said...

Marty, I often disagree with you but I always admire how thoroughly you think through things. It's rare and wonderful, and I thank you for it.

I have one comment about your list, and it's not so much about its content but about its couching.

The quote is sometimes attributed to Mark Twain: "All general statements are false, including this one." With that in mind, look at how many of your theses begin with absolute statements: "America's most overrated product," "the greatest victims," "most underserved," are three examples.

By setting these statements up as absolute, you've immediately driven an unnecessary, unconstructive wedge between your argument and that of someone who might have a different, but complementary, opinion. You've put up barriers to working together. We live in society, and solutions have to come from people working together.

There's a difference between passionate and bullheaded; I think you're the former, but your choice of words sometimes comes off as the latter.

Thanks for listening.

Marty Nemko said...

It is a delicate balance: If I temper my statements, I'm less likely to generate the appropriate sense that there is a profound injustice occurring If I'm too bold, it can appear hyperbolic. It is odd that advocates for women or minorities are never criticized for being too bold.

In the end, I usually decide to say what I honestly believe without much couching.

F.S. said...

But see, you've done it again. You write that "women or minorities are never criticized for being too bold."

I would bet that you have done that criticizing, so the "never" in your argument is inaccurate. Why not "rarely"?

Grace said...

Will you be able to sleep better if you abandon your mission statement? Rather than walking away from stating your views entirely, just take a break to allow yourself time to regroup. Continue to develop your arguments and gather evidences, but hold off on posting for a little while. Wait for a time when your opponents have found a new target-of-the-month.

I often disagree with your views, but any sane person who reads your blog/articles on a regular basis knows that you are no racist. It's tragic how people can get away with slander when they are on the side of the popular media.

Marty Nemko said...

Point taken, F.S. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Grace is correct, anyone who reads your writing knows you seek equality and fairness.

It's unfortunate that you are a victim of what sounds like an inability be some to discuss opposing views to their own.

If it helps, there are readers/listeners who can understand and appreciate your efforts.

Strange, the irony here, isn't it? It was once scorned to defend a person of color, or befriend a Jew in Nazi Germany. While it's not as deadly as all that, stating opposing views makes you the object of hate?

Well, sometimes I am surprised by how low some people will go. Fortunately, I'm often surprised by how great they can be!

In the future, rest well knowing you push up, not put down.

Jeff Shore said...

Add my name to the list, Marty. I don't always agree with your points, but I am always stimulated and informed. (And btw, I agree with MOST of your points!)

I wonder if deep down you'll be able to hold to your promise. It seems out of character for you to sit on your opinions.

Damned the naysayers - full speech ahead!

Marty Nemko said...

Jeff, you may be right. I may end up unable to resist.

Anonymous said...

While you are a self-styled meritocrat, you are disturbingly prepared to make aggregate prejudgements about large groups of people.

There is a real problem in meritocratic arguments; they can fall into the fallacies of social Darwinism if they move away from individual merit and into aggregate merit: those (classes in the UK, races in the US) at the top of the social ladder are there because of merit.

The fact that these people resemble their parents is then used as evidence that merit is inherited - hence the link to Darwin. The role of privilege in establishing children in society is conveniently overlooked.

Galton and later Fisher took this completely over the top; they noticed that as education and social standing increased, birthrate decreased, and actually argued that soon all of the smarts would be bred out of us because people they judged to be socially - and thus, by their argument, intrinsically, or essentially, or genetically - less meritorious were still having lots of babies.

I was surprised to see Kurt Vonnegut do something very similar once.

He was speaking about postwar Poland. He stated flatly that the Nazis had murdered the intelligent people. The remark was made in passing as part of a longer speech, but it was jarring that even he had conflated education with intelligence. In most societies, educational attainment correlates strongly not just with intelligence, but with social standing.

If you have both, you'll get a great education. If you have only one, social standing is a far surer way of getting educated than intelligence is. This is especially the kind of advanced education that makes you 'suitable' for social advancement in law, finance and government.

George Bush The Recent is a fine example of the soft prejudice of low expectations for the current generations of hereditary elites. I really was floored to hear him apply rhetoric to the treatment of minority children which so clearly applied so much more strongly to his own lackluster carreer.

Marty Nemko said...

The Left is far more guilty than the Right of insisting on policy based on groups. The Right obsesses about judging individuals on the merits.

I rail against reverse discrim only because the Left has insisted on it--a group-based set of policies.

When the Left, much earlier, insisted on equal rights for all individuals, I was with them. Indeed, Hubert Humphrey, in advocating for affirmative action laws in the 1960s said something like, "If affirmative action, in practice, turns out to be reverse discrimination, I'll eat my hat."

If he were alive, he would have, by now, eaten a whole haberdashery.

Anonymous said...

A good reason to oppose homosexual marriage that has no involvement of religious or 'slippery slope' arguments is equal treatment under the law. Homosexuals should be held to the same standards as heteros and not be accorded additional rights that would ultimately re-define marriage.

Alexander Kucy said...

About getting rid of affirmative action,

Take a look at the book The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions ( It is a 20 year long study conducted by political scientist Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, and economist William G. Bowen, former president of Princeton University, who observed and analyzed the academic and post graduate lives of 45,000 students at 28 of the nation’s top universities. So this is no slouch study.

Among many things, they found that, yes, kids that got into a university because of their affirmative action edge did struggle while in the program but after gradation there was no discernable difference between the almost the entire affirmative action group and the regular admission population. Now I am against affirmative action for people of a minority background that come from a stable economic one. The point of affirmative action is to raise black people out of the ghetto, give them an education, and pray that they go back and help the community they came from (the study also found that black men, compared to white men, were a good deal more likely to be involved in civic affairs after graduations.) but we should not allow middle class members to abuse the system.

PS. Another study, written by two UC Davis medical professors and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reported that from 1968-1987 45 percent of students who got into college because of affirmative action were white. They satisfied the criteria of poverty, neglect, and “characteristics…other then race.”


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